Traveling With Kids? This Tip Saved Our Sanity.

How to travel with kids and keep your sanity.

A few months ago, my husband and I surprised our three young daughters by picking them up from school, the minivan packed to the brim, and taking a family trip to Florida.  Of course, any trip involves the actual travel portion -- the getting there and back again. I haven't studied the etymology of the word travel, but on the surface it seems uncannily similar to travail.  Sometimes there's a degree of pain and suffering involved, especially if you're traveling with kids.

At the very least, impatience tends to be involved -- both theirs and yours.  Not to mention a tendency for children to be hungry (a ravenously I've-never-eaten-before-in-my-entire-life type of hungry) for lunch by 9:45 in the morning even if they just ate breakfast at 7:30.

What saved our journey was a tip that a student shared with me when I explained my Spring Break plans to my classes.  "When we used to take long road trips," she said, "my parents would pay my brother and me one dollar for every hour that we behaved.  If we fought or complained, we didn't earn our dollar that hour."

Honestly, I doubted the strategy.  First, it seemed like it was merely bribing kids to do the good behavior that they already ought to be doing.  Second, would it really work?  Would one dollar per hour be enough incentive to motivate a child, equal parts tiredness and eagerness, not to whine or complain while stuck in a car seat for hours?

But we tried it.  And here's the kicker: it worked.

It worked beautifully, magically, miraculously.  It prompted our eight-year-old to gently warn our three-year-old: "Hang in there.  Don't yell or fuss.  Don't lose your dollar.  You can buy yourself a treat or a prize if you earn your dollars!"  It kept our five-year-old coloring and humming to herself.  It saved my husband and me headaches and excessive consumption of Tylenol.

We only did this during the drive from Pennsylvania to Orlando (not back home), which amounted to 16 hours.  The sum payoff was $47 between our three kids.  (For those of you quick with math, you'll calculate that only one kid lost one dollar the entire time.  Impressive.)

Moreover, we would have bought the girls a souvenir during the trip anyway, but this way, the girls "earned" their own spending money for the week and rationed it carefully when considering what to purchase.  It was truly ninja parenting: they earned what we naturally would have given, and we watched them demonstrate self-control both when obtaining and then spending the money.

That's a travel victory, indeed.

Road trip, anyone?
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  1. Brilliant! My oldest daughter really likes to "earn" money... this would work wonderfully for her.

    Glad it worked and that the Tylenol could be reserved for when REALLY needed.

    Wishing you a lovely day.

    1. My oldest daughter is the same way, Jennifer. She's all about extrinsic motivation and, wow, does it ever work for her!

  2. I am certainly not above bribery - we give our kids a dollar for trying new food on vacation. We drove to Disney in April too, but my older kids have no issues with the car trip. Books, iPads, iPods, and food keep them happy!

    1. I'm with you: I'm against bribery as a continual lifestyle, but there ARE occasional situations where it just seems to fit, eh?

  3. I never would have thought about this, so clever. I have three boys (two of them are 3 & 4) so travel just isn't something we do often. I may reconsider now. Thanks for sharing!

    1. You are so welcome, Lisa! I think it works best for kids old enough to understand buying power, so the concept was a little vague for my 3-year-old. Still, it's worth trying! I hope it works of you do travel!

  4. Great thinking. I'll keep this in mind if we ever travel :-)


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